Later this evening I will fulfill a pretty long held ambition by seeing U2 in Croke Park. Allegedly the claw thing that serves as a stage is immense and astounding but I have been consciously avoiding any reviews or info so that I can be hit by the majesty of the scene as much as possible.
I have seen U2 live on many occasions in the comfort of my own home. I loved U2 Live in Boston. I thought the 3D gig released in cinemas was pretty cool. I even saw Bono pray on stage during an interview with Bill Hybels. But all the YouTube in the world won’t make up for hearing them with my own ears in our nation’s temple, Croker.
I moved from being the average Irish guy who liked U2 in the way we like potatoes, constantly surrounded by them but not especially excited by them into being an avid fan after reading a book by Steve Stockman. I began to see the pilgrimage that U2 took their fans on, beginning by urging them to follow and ending by calling “Wake up Deadman”.
But the new album has left most people underwhelmed. To the extent that it is U2’s most spiritually honest album you could even say it is U2’s first spiritually honest album. Everything is out there in the open. Songs about unblemished lambs. Songs about peace descending. Songs about how we are made to sing to one who is Magnificent.
And I think there is something deep for someone more creative than I to mine from the effect of U2 coming out naked. An allure has been lost. The strip-tease is over and there’s not much to look at now.
U2 are the biggest band in the world. You cannot hope to gather such a following by singing the rock songs equivalent of Frederick Buechner. For U2 to be U2 things have to be simple to grasp, easily defined and catchy as swine flu. No Line On The Horizon is not U2’s Kid A. It is not a move into uncharted territory of prog-rock. It is not even a concept album. It is still U2 rock on the same old U2 conceit of effect laden guitars, soaring choruses, music to rock stadia with. But now there is no playful shallow grey in the narrative of the songs. The Streets Have No Name is about heaven, but it could be about America. That’s pretty cool for a rock song. Songs called Heaven Is A Place Without A Sun or a song called America Was A Big Untouched Place would not be as cool.
And so U2 on No Line On The Horizon sound like nothing more than the best Christian Contemporary Rock band in the world. And I mean that to be a criticism. Rock music is interesting in part because the canvas is so very limited. Fitting more than two themes into a three-chord, four minute song is a challenge. Collapsing a real message down into something that can be read off the page is well, boring. And so we have Magnificent:
Can the newly found brazen honesty of Bono about his faith ever hope to reach the brilliance of the old Bono who sang of Judas awaiting judgment or the Holy Spirit’s sensuous touch?
Your Correspondent, Will have changed his tone in the morning